Mama and Me

A photo on my Facebook Newsfeed last week of a “vintage stove” took me back to early childhood and a Saturday night ritual, shared with my mother, that lasted until I was about 12-years-old.

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Saturday evenings were a special time reserved only for “mama and me.”   No, it was not baking cookies, cakes or a special family recipe on a stove similar to the one pictured.   To be honest, mama was not the typical homemaker of the 1950s.   Mama was the breadwinner and I was her only child.

For all practical purposes, she was a single mother and the sole provider of our shelter, food, and clothing.  Mama was able to do this by working six days a week and walking for eight hours around a long table collating pages at a bookbindery.  Most days, she came home, after sitting on a bus and train for one hour, worn out and exhausted.

But, a nourishing meal was always on the table for the two of us with the exception of Saturday.  This day was reserved for mama and me.”   She would cook either hot dogs or hamburgers along with fries; and, she never forgot to bring home our dessert of choice, butter pecan ice cream.

A “gourmet” cook she wasn’t, but growing up in rural Mississippi, my mama mastered the art of “pleasure loving” soul food cooking.   She never used a recipe; and, I am grateful she took the time to teach her Chicago-reared daughter the ins and outs of cooking southern style.

Loved the special meal mama cooked on Saturday nights.  Hated, her obsession with my hair.    Saturday mornings, she never failed, before leaving for work to wash and braid my long, thick, coarse hair in preparation for the “mama and me” time I hated.

See, in those times, no self-respecting mother would send her child to Sunday School with a “nappy” head.  So, Saturday night was dedicated to straightening my hair.  Looking back, it was a laborious task for both “mama and me.”   She placed a chair in front of the stove for me to sit on.  The hated straightening comb was pulled out and placed on the stove burner.

Mama would begin by taking down the first of my 6-8 braids.  She used a large tooth plastic comb to untangle that section of my hair.  Once untangled, she separated into even smaller sections of hair and lightly applied Royal Crown Hair Dressing. 

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Then, she would put a dab of saliva on her fingertip, lightly touch the straightening comb to make sure it was not too hot.  You see, a hot straightening comb could scorch the hair.   While, I don’t recall mama ever scorching my hair, I do remember burns on my ear, forehead, scalp and sometimes the neck.    On those rare occasions, mama would say, “I told you to keep your head straight. “  Yes, I often would fidget or nap during the 1 to 1½ hour process it took to straighten my hair..

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“Mama and me” Saturday nights are amongst my most treasured memories.   Who I am today is due to the lessons learned from “mama” on hair straightening nights.

My mama went to her final resting place on December 8, 1967, four months after undergoing surgery to correct a heart problem.   The heart surgery was successful, but she suffered irreversible brain damage due to anesthesia complications.   Mama was only 42-years-old.

Letter to Mama

I know you worried when I married.  After all, I was only 17-years-old, quickly had two children, and we struggled as a young couple.   Things worked out.  In our mid-twenties, JT and I enrolled in a top-ten university and earned our college degrees.  We are both retired; and April 11, we will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary.

Your three grandchildren, now middle aged, are running our family-owned medical practice and ambulatory surgery center.

  • grandson, KA, is responsible for marketing and referring physician relations.
  • granddaughter, PY, is an anesthesiologist and pain physician and serves as the medical director.
  • granddaughter, KO, who carries your name, is an attorney and serves as the administrator and legal counsel.

Mama, you also have five great-grandchildren:

  • EM, male, 22-years-old, senior in college;
  • CY, female, 21-years-old, sophomore in college;
  • GK, male, 17-years-old, junior in high school;
  • CJ, male, 13-years-old, seventh grader in middle school; and
  • AN, girl, 4-years-old, in pre-school.

Mama, thank you for creating the foundation that led to our building a strong family structure.   Rest In Peace.  All is well with us. 

“I thought that I would miss you so, and never find my way.  

And then I heard an angel say, “She’s with you everyday.    

The sun, the moon, the wind, the stars, will  forever be

around, reminding you of the love you shared and

the peace she’s finally found.” (unknown)

In His Own Words

My husband of fifty-two years never ceases to amaze me. Most recently, after a three-year project — on-again and off-again — he completed writing his memoirs and family history.

Married at the young ages of 17 and 18, I have watched him go through the many phases of life. The challenges sometimes seemed insurmountable, but he always kept pushing forward — failure was not an option.  At each stage, his goal was to move our family forward.  He had a strong commitment to ensuring our children were given opportunities that had not been available to us.   Together, we accomplished this.   There were some bumps in the road.  But, I can honestly say we have been fortunate.  In our fifty-two years together, we have shared more lemonade than lemons.  I ask my five Blog Followers, you  know who you are, to join me in congratulating first time author, James Cameron Thomas, on the January 12, 2013 release of his first book, “Son of a Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream.”

In His Own Words

I am a 70-year-old black male who was born in Mississippi in 1941 to an 18-year-old unwed mother with one child.  My parents were sharecroppers.   I did not know my biological father until I was 15 years old.  I grew up in dire poverty in the pre-Civil Rights south, chopping and picking cotton for ten hours a day, eight months of the year.  I was a high school dropout and had my first child, out-of-wedlock, at the tender age of 17.  One year later I married my beautiful 17-year-old childhood sweetheart and by the age of 26 I was the father of four children.  By age 33, I had obtained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I overcame many difficult beginnings to become the succesful person I am today.

This year my wife Yvonne and I celebrated our 52nd anniversary.  Thanks to a lot of hard work and God’s blessings, I now live in a suburb of Wisconsin and have a winter home in Orlando, Florida.  I live in a beautiful house , have a large collection of African-American art, photographs and mementos and I am not without resources and material comforts.   I am surrounded by treasured books by William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and numerous other authors who have written about the African-American experience in America.  I am truly blessed with a rich network of friends going back to elementary school including my best friend, my loving wife Yvonne.  I have four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all blessed with good health and sound minds, and pursuing careers.

My story and my family’s story is about being black in this country — an honest story about how much progress has been made, but also about how much progress still needs to be achieved.  I faced many hardships and struggles as a poor black boy growing up in 1950’s Mississippi.  But my struggles and hardships didn’t end when I moved to the north and began my professional career in business and government service.  While I was no longer chopping and picking cotton ten hours a day, I was still in many ways treated like a second class citizen.  This book, then, is a cautionary tale for black people about attitudes that have not changed fast enough and the progress that still has to be made.

At the same time, this is not a memoir by an angry black man.  Rather it is a story of hope and perseverance — about how I overcame tremendous odds to achieve success and the American Dream.  Despite the problems I describe, I’ve had many more victories, and I am thankful to my family, friends, colleagues, and country for the opportunities and achievements that have blessed my life.

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A Big Deal: The 2013 Presidential Inauguration

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(Last Monday, I received a special piece of mail. A gold embossed commemorative invitation from “The Presidential Inaugural Committee,” to attend the January 21, 2013 Inauguration. What better way to show appreciation to the Obama campaign volunteers and donors. For me, this was the Grande Obama Collectible. I must confess, my collection of Obama memorabilia probably meets the definition of “collectible hoarding.” But this invitation, outweighs everything else. Why? Because, it is about so much more than an invite to the swearing-in of President Obama for a second term. I was so excited! Then, I shared the good news with my two grandsons’ 13-year-old CJE and 17-year-old GPK. The reaction, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a commemorative invitation. It’s not like you were really asked to be there.” Their indifferent attitude, led me to write then this letter.)

Dear GPK and CJE:

You are right. I will watch the Presidential Inauguration on television like millions of others. I will not sit with those who received the “real invite.” But, it doesn’t matter. This Presidential Inauguration is a “Big Deal.”
In our efforts to shield you, we may have failed to inform you. As famed author, James Baldwin, stated, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations where you can go.”

Let’s begin. Prior to passage of the 13th Amendment, Black people were:
• viewed as property – bought and sold like livestock,
• prohibited from marrying, and
• forbidden to learn how to read and write.

So, on this Presidential Inauguration Day, I will say, “Thank You” to President Lincoln for the role he played, so many years ago, in starting the journey from slavery to the White House.
A second Bible, once owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was selected by President Obama for this swearing-in ceremony. Also, what an honor to Dr. King for the Presidential Inauguration to take place on the 30th Anniversary Holiday to celebrate his life and legacy?
Another great civil rights leader will be honored at this Presidential Inauguration. The Invocation will be delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of the civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, assassinated fifty years ago outside of his home. A civil rights activist and journalist, Ms. Evers-Williams, fought tirelessly for over 30 years to bring her husband’s killer to justice.
As I watch the Presidential Inauguration on television, I will take a moment to “honor” Dr. King, and Mr. Evers, two prominent leaders, whose lives were cut short due to their non-violent protest to end segregation. I will say a prayer for the many other leaders and civil rights workers, from all walks of life coming together, to risk and sometimes lose their lives fighting for justice and equality. Also, I will “honor” Ms. Evers-Williams for her many years of advocacy for equal rights and fair treatment. While the Civil Rights Movement was not able to make up for past injustices, it is now possible for many more people to aspire for the American Dream:
“. . . rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence which claims that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Kamp, Rethinking the American Dream, April 2009)

This Presidential Inauguration and my commemorative, gold embossed invitation is a “Big Deal.” The road from slavery to the White House has been a “long and treacherous journey.”
It is a “Big Deal,” GPK and CJE, for me to know one day, if you make the choice, it is possible for you to become President of the United States.

My Final Season: How I Choose to Live It

(Recently, I retired from our family business after many years of working closely with my husband and three adult children.   As a 70-year-old, I faced reality.  Approaching my final season, it was time to make a choiceMy final season, as defined by ME is the time to focus on MEJCT, the other half  of ME for the past fifty-two years, supported my choice.  He willingly joined me on this journey.  We packed up and moved thousands of miles away from the business and children.  It was difficult to “Let Go.”  Closely attached to the three of them as friend, mother, co-worker, and babysitter, I knew it would be difficult for all of us.  I needed to write a letter to explain why I made my choice.  Even though I interact with my children on a daily basis, periodically, I will write a letter just to say, “thank you,” I appreciate you” “I want to praise you,” “I love you,” and “I am proud of you.”   This letter written not to long ago was the first about ME.)

My Dearest Children/Professional Colleagues:

These last two days gave me time to listen.  My inner voice spoke to me.   I listened. This season of my life God wants to direct me down a new path.   A new journey.  A new venture.   A time to explore and discover ME.   

In this last season of my life, I plan to open new doors.  Hopefully, some will lead me to a life overflowing  with tranquility, serenity and peacefulness.   When I look back over the years, there were few opportunities to BE ME.   I left my parents’ home at the age of seventeen, newly married, with a baby on the way.  Thereafter, my priority has been that of wife, mother, grandmother and career.   God blessed me with the three of you and five beautiful grandchildren.  I am grateful for all the happiness and joy you guys have brought into my life.  However, before I allow this season of my life to past, I want to begin to tackle my “Bucket List.”

So many things I want to do.  Yet, sometimes I feel there is so little time.  As a beginning, I want to:

  • further develop and sharpen my writing skills.
  • learn how to prepare and cook healthy meals.  The dozens and dozens of health-related cookbooks I have collected is an example of a dream never fulfilled.
  • practice Yoga and Pilates.   For years, I wanted to take classes, but my inability to do floor routines prevented me from doing so.  In November, I discovered Pilates and Yoga DVD chair exercises.   Yet,  both remain unopened.
  • read for relaxation and pleasure.  Both my IPAD and Kindle have 100s of unread books.
  • create a blog as a connection to the diverse range of people in the blogosphere.  The blog is set up, the first post is a work in progress.
  • complete training on my MAC laptop.  Gifted as a birthday present by ME and to ME in November.  It is still in the shipping box.
  • study, daily, the On-Line Bible Program I  bought more than nine months ago.  Though loaded on my computer,  I have not completed the first lesson.

I hope you guys will support my choice to pursue this new adventure.  It took a lot of praying, reading, and more praying.   Many nights, I prayed for God to guide and lead me in the way He would want me to go.   I woke up at 4:00 a.m., this morning, went into the front living room, and opened my IPAD to read a few inspirational quotes on Pinterest.  The first one to pop up:

Letting Go

To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring.  It means I can’t do it for someone else.

To let go is not to enable but to allow learning from natural consequences

To let go is to admit powerlessness which means the outcome is not in my hands

To let go is not to try to change or blame another.  I can only change myself

To let go is not to care for, but to care about

To let go is not to fix but to be supportive. 

To let go is not to judge but to allow another to be a human being

To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes

but to allow others to effect their own outcomes

To let go is not to be protective.  It is to permit another to face reality

To let go is not to deny, but to accept

To let go is not to nag, scold or argue but to

search out my own shortcomings and correct them

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires but to

take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but

to become the best I can be

To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future

To let go is to fear less.  Trust in God more and freely give the love He’s given to me .

I Am Letting Go to find ME.  My requests to you my children — both as siblings and professional colleagues.  Remember your core values.  Stick together as a family.  Protect each other.  Love each other.  Trust each other.   Respect each other.  Value each other.  Support each other.    I know you will stay connected even when your father and I are no longer actively involved in the business.  Yes, there will be differences as you continue to work together, but never let the bonds of our family disintegrate.  I truly believe you will honor my requests.

In summary, my choice — “cut the apron springs” and “spread my wings” as I journey down a path of self-fulfillment, self-examination, and self-development.  This is the season of my life and the possibilities are unlimited.

Thomas family Portrait
Thomas Family Portrait

(My first blogpost on this new journey.)